Militant nationalism is not an exclusively male enterprise. But a principal fuel that keeps the enterprise going is high-octane testosterone. You can find this renewable resource in many male-heavy places: the battlefield, the football stadium, the pulpits of politics. And when men gather in pubs to sing hymns to the gods of blood and soil, women are usually somewhere else attending to prosaic responsibilities (jobs, children, gardens).
Nationalism needs such hymns. Consider the relationship between Serbian poetry and Serbian nationalism.
In Yugoslavia and Albania, the last great bards of the 20th century were still reciting huge skeins of poetry in a tradition that stretched back to Homer. In her 1916 book, Serbia: A Sketch, Helen Leah Reed writes about young Serbians carrying around their one-stringed violins – the gusle – in order to sing at every opportunity. “Some find its music plaintive, others call it tiresome,” she writes, “and travelers as long ago as the beginning of the eighteenth century have written of seeing numbers of people in a crowd silently weeping as they listened to an old blind man chanting the national songs.”
The national songs, she goes on to explain, center around two epics, both related to the Battle of Kosovo. In that battle, you might remember, the Serbian Prince Lazar fought a losing battle against the Turks at Kosovo Polje in 1389. The national desire to regain that territory figured in the meteoric rise of Slobodan Milosevic in 1989, the war between Belgrade and Pristina in the late 1990s, and the continued tensions surrounding Kosovo’s declared independence.
Nationalism, men, and war: it’s practically a holy trinity.
Except that’s not the whole story. In fact, as anthropologist and writer Svetlana Slapsak related to me, the epic songs were not just sung by men. And the story of the battle of Kosovo has a very interesting sequel that most people (including me) simply don’t know.
“The first Serbian philologist and the founder of the Serbian lay language, Vuk Karadzic, published the first collections of oral poetry at the beginning of 19th century,” she told me in a discussion in Ljubljana one evening last October. “He wrote that the epic songs are sung by men and women, and everything else is sung by women. Milman Parry and Albert Lord, when they were traveling around Bosnia recording epic poems, obviously didn’t notice these women singers, which were noted by Matija Murko and other specialists, who also took photographs of these women.” The songs of the women, Murko pointed out, reflected different values.
As for Prince Lazar and the epic loss of Kosovo, “when the battle was over and most of the men were killed off in this small Serbian feudal state, women were in charge,” Slapsak continued. “The widow of Prince Lazar took over. She ruled with the help of another woman, who had previously come to the court when her husband was killed in an earlier battle with the Turks. This woman was highly educated, the first Serbian poetess. While these two women ruled the country, they had excellent relations with their neighbors and compromised with the Turks.”
Slapsak and other women activists continued this tradition of anti-war activism in the 1990s. She believes that it is still important to take on the nationalists by, as she colorfully describes it, “putting your head into garbage.” We talked about the nationalism of Slovenia and Croatia and Serbia, the joys of doing theater in and around Ljubljana, and the absurdities of Yugonostalgia. In an update, she also has provided a capsule description of what subsequently happened in Slovenian politics after our discussion last fall.
Do you remember where you were and what you are thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?
I remember very well where I was and what I was thinking. I was in Belgrade, with friends. We were having a soiree with people who defined themselves as pro-Yugoslav and anti-nationalism. And there was no enthusiasm at all. We all believed that the fall of the Wall was, on the one hand, a beautiful event for the people: an explosion of happiness. On the other hand, it was part of a bigger scheme that would not end very well, which it didn’t.
Then when I first went to Berlin three years later, I had a very heavy emotional shock. There are some places where you have a nervous breakdown, there’s no other possibility! We were driving down Unter den Linden, and I burst into tears. I was completely hysterical. It was the same kind of historical shock when I first went to the Old Town in Warsaw. The very silly interpretation was that the souls of all the victims of the events were meeting me and telling me their stories. So, then, I repented a bit. Of course, there is a kind of empathic experience at places of horrible events and killing. A young Croatian photographer defined it for me much later, some two years ago. She took photos of intentionally forgotten sites where the “other” — be it ethnic or class-related – had been killed. These are deserted places with grass and weeds, no signs at all…
I lived in Berlin in 2000. And what friends from the east told me, and what I saw, was that it was a terrible transition and it was still going on. It was really unjust. It was unprofessional. It was imperial. And it was very unpleasant for most of the Germans from the east. It wasn’t the celebration that it seemed on the surface.
The other thing was that it was organized. Can I be paranoid for a moment?
Of course, you can be anything you want!
Somehow, I believe that the events in Berlin that year were meant to overshadow the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. That’s one of my feelings. It was largely invented by the rightwing of Europe, headed by the Vatican, to obscure the revolutionary legacy. And now we are coming to a much worse situation than in 1989.
Speaking of bad situations, was there a point at which you felt that things would not end well for Yugoslavia, that it would not be a peaceful breakup?
Oh, definitely. It was in 1985. There was this outburst of nationalist discourse all over the place. It was very unpleasant, especially in Serbia, with all these ideas about the territorial remaking of Yugoslavia. The stupidity of the discourse was the worst of all. When I say stupidity, I’m thinking in comparison to the 20 years of education among the dissident intelligentsia. As you know, Yugoslavia didn’t have formal censorship. There were other forms of censorship embedded in the regime system. Whenever you were writing or making a film or doing a piece of theater, you never knew where the limit was. There was this caution, this fear if you will, which would make you really intelligent in formulating the things you wanted to say. You could say things that your public would understand but the guys in the hidden censorship institutions wouldn’t. That was the game, and it demanded a lot of intelligence. And this intelligence just disappeared in the mid-1980s.
At that time, people joined the dissident movement because it was trendy to be a dissident in Yugoslavia after Tito died when everything opened up. The former dissidents had the goal to support human rights and freedom of expression. The new dissidents, these elite trendy dissidents, put forward a different plan: collective rights over individual rights. This was unbearable for me from the very beginning. By 1989, I was already very deep in the process of losing friends, one by one. It’s hard to be optimistic in a situation when you’re losing three friends a week. I was going through this with a kind of stoic firmness, but my husband was simply suffering. He would spend nights with these people trying to convince them, but nothing worked. So it was a very unhappy moment.
Were there also people in the women’s movement who adopted this attitude?
No. Not one. Some of our friends became weak or afraid and kind of compromised with the nationalists from 1992 to 1994. When the whole thing finished, we embraced them again.
You forgave them.
They did what they did. They didn’t kill anybody. They didn’t make a lot of propaganda. They were just going with the flow to keep their careers, to survive. Several of these women were at a wonderful conference in Zagreb last year in October. There was, finally, a kind of peacemaking. It was quite interesting to meet these women and listen to them.
Was the conversation explicit?
Absolutely. But as I said, there were no women from the Yugoslav women’s movement at the beginning of the war or before the war who embraced those nationalist positions. In 1990, at an international conference on women’s writing in Dubrovnik, we issued a document, all 300 of us, in favor of preserving Yugoslavia in any possible form — confederation, para-federation — just to avoid war. During the war, all of these women performed services for other women, like taking care of refugees and victims, helping people in other territories, and never losing contact through our network.
That’s a very important achievement. It’s hard to identify other groups in this area who were able to achieve that.
There aren’t. Even the peace movement had its blemishes. There was a medical doctor in Belgrade who died recently, a guy I liked a lot who was a very radical dissident. He said that women saved the honor of Serbia. He was quite blunt about it. But I think he was right.
In addition to the people who had second thoughts at this conference last year, have other people come up to you after all these years and said, “You know, you were right”?
Basically everyone said that we were right. It wasn’t a personal thing. I did have a very interesting encounter with a woman academic who had an extremely interesting criticism of something I wrote. All this investment into writing against nationalists, she said, was basically lost time and energy. She was right on this point. Nationalism is stupid, so when you attack nationalism you become stupid too. You simplify your arguments. On the other hand, if you don’t do what I call “putting your head into garbage,” then who will? We sacrificed a portion of our intelligence, some of our time, and much of our careers to do that. But I’m proud to be a garbage woman. I appreciated very much her argument, but basically we couldn’t do otherwise.
It’s similar to Camus’s Sisyphus. You push the rock up the hill even though you know it’s absurd.
Exactly. You have to do it.
When you think back to the positions you took in those years, have you had any second thoughts?
I do wonder how I managed to do absolutely everything to ruin my career! Okay, I’m proud of that, but I’m quite surprised at my persistence. I can tell you one mistake. I was in Saratoga with my husband, in our second year of my stay in the United States. I had a very precise idea that we should risk everything and stay there.
What year was this?
1995. And I tried to convince my husband that we should endure even a year or two of a very modest life and lots of struggle and stay because this was where our academic capacities could develop. He thought we should go back, as socialist pioneers, and fight for the school that our friends founded in Slovenia. So, we did that. And that was a fatal mistake, which was a consequence of a previous fatal mistake, which was to follow my husband.
So, we came back. In a very short time the school was a success, thanks to very good work and some brilliant colleagues from France who helped. Then, of course, the local boys just destroyed everything. The Slovene anthropologists organized a coup – to make a plot sound sexy… The rest was much misery. My idea of staying in the States was really selfish, I have to say. I’m not proud of it.
I can understand. My impulse when George W. Bush was elected was to leave the United States immediately. What’s your feeling today about the level of nationalism — not just the level but the form that the nationalism takes?
Here in Slovenia, we’re seeing the revenge of this hidden nationalism from many years ago. It’s just exploding now, in the worst possible government. Slovenia did not repent for its role in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It did not take responsibility for the Erased. It did not take responsibility for outbursts of nationalism. It’s a real rarity to find a non-Slovenian in government or institutional culture. And unfortunately, all of this is coming back now with the crisis: a huge wave of intolerance, most aggressively toward Roma, but also toward other minorities. There have also been voices quite recently in favor of reintroducing the ban on abortion. We might end up as a really conservative, frozen little country on this side of the Alps. The nationalism is everywhere. You can’t even define it anymore as nationalism because everything is imbued with it.
In Croatia, the government is at least repressing extreme nationalism. And nationalism is becoming more and more transparent in Serbia, so it’s easy to distance one’s self from it. In Macedonia, nationalism is turning grotesque. But here in Slovenia, because it is invisible, it’s more dangerous than ever.
Has membership in the EU changed the inflection of nationalism here?
What is Europe today? You have Scots and Catalans and Flemish who want to leave the states they’re living in. All kinds of nationalism are flourishing, controlled or not controlled: bloody outbursts in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, racism in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It’s almost everywhere, and the EU does not condemn it any more. It’s not on the agenda at the moment, and no one mentions it. Maybe members of the European Parliament mention it. But the European Parliament is a complete mystery to us. There’s no European television, no European media, no European magazines. There are no structures that could form a European mind.
And the thinking around the crisis is unbelievably illogical. What’s the logic of financing German investments into Greek banks and leaving Greeks to die of hunger? We don’t react to this except with racist outbursts that we’re paying for the “lazy Greeks.” If we had European media, perhaps it would be better.
I’ve seen a new left emerging n this region, responding in part to these inequities, Europe-wide but also within the countries. They also have a new left agenda related to LGBT issues, environmental politics, and so on. What about here in Slovenia?
Oh yes, of course. There’s a rather prominent group of young left-wingers. But a common feature of these new left movements in Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia is a non-critical acceptance of communism. It’s provocative. It’s epater le bourgeois. But their reading of Lenin and Stalin is disarmingly naïve, a lack of knowledge and memory that’s really deplorable. They do not respect feminists. They do not think of large united fronts of people, of compromising. These rather aggressive, very male, very young boys should first learn a lot, write a lot, and then think about doing something serious in politics. And some people, like Slavoj Zizek, incite them in a very wrong way. This Leninist backlash is not my cup of tea. I like the Left folklore. It’s been my life too. But after 30 years, we should be more clever in defining our politics.
You don’t see a different new left that’s feminist, ecological, and so on?
Yes, there’s a lot of this. But there’s very little possibility of making a solid movement because of social fragmentation and the need just to survive. Everyone is under the attack from a million little bureaucrats. One way is to go into the street, like the Greeks or Portuguese or French. But they’ve been doing it for years, and it hasn’t helped. It’s good folklore. You go home with a good feeling, but nothing really happens. We need to think of other ways.
I’m very intrigued by this play that you wrote that deconstructs the Kosovo myth. I’d like to see this produced it somewhere!
I, too, would like to see it produced! About five years ago, I wrote an article in the European Journal of Anthropology in which I used a very simple analysis of the Kosovo myth based on historical and literary sources. There are the epic poetry texts written by the actors in this history, their biographies, and lots of historical data. But none of the historians has ever tried to put the whole situation after the Kosovo battle into a larger context.
When the battle was over and most of the men were killed off in this small Serbian feudal state, women were in charge. The widow of Prince Lazar took over. She ruled with the help of another woman, who had previously come to the court when her husband was killed in an earlier battle with the Turks. This woman was highly educated, the first Serbian poetess. While these two women ruled the country, they had excellent relations with their neighbors and compromised with the Turks. So, they managed to survive and bring up the young prince in this environment. There were several daughters and two sons and most of them were writers who wrote about their father, Prince Lazar.
In my play, the family builds up the myth of the fallen prince and how Christian he was, even though in real life they despised the whole epic death thing. These two women not only wrote ideological texts such as prayers for the fallen king, they also introduced a new woman saint from Bulgaria as a political scheme to lift up women, to give them hope and a reason to live. The princesses got married to various kings — the Bulgarian king, the Bosnian king, — they were powerful and they were clever and they also wrote. The son grew up and received his titles from Byzantium, from the Turkish sultan, and from Hungarian and Polish and other kings, and he established himself as kind of western knight. He built Belgrade, which was a city in ruins, and made it into an international city of palaces of art. He organized schools of writing, and he was a poet himself. He wrote a poem that might be dedicated to his brother but might also be a gay poem. His sister was married to a Turkish sultan, and she was in love with her husband, which goes against the Serbian mythology of victimhood. They were a happy family, a success in the world in which they lived.
In my play, I describe the whole political situation of this family. The young prince is gay, and his lover is an Albanian aristocrat. So, yes, I provoked a lot, I suppose. But I couldn’t stand it anymore! Writing academic papers at a certain point is okay, but sometimes you should do it the other way around.
How did this interesting history get turned into a death cult? Through the singing of these epic poems?
It’s another example of people not reading the texts that they have. The first Serbian philologist and the founder of the Serbian lay language, Vuk Karadzic, published the first collections of oral poetry at the beginning of 19th century. He wrote that the epic songs are sung by men and women, and everything else is sung by women. Milman Parry and Albert Lord, when they were traveling around Bosnia recording epic poems, obviously didn’t notice these women singers, which were noted by Matija Murko and other specialists, who also took photographs of these women. Vladimir Nedic, a wonderful professor in Belgrade, published a book on women singers in the 1970s. He famously noted that epic songs made by women show a different kind of emotional setting, a different set of values, and so on. These women were professionally marked by being blind, or half-blind. They were equal to men and so popular they were hired for festivities. In one exchange of letters, when a very famous singer active between Zemun in the Austrian territories and Beograd across the river in Serbia suddenly died, the Serbian elite in Zemun said, “What can we do since we can’t do these festivities without her?” She not only had a pupil but she had a daughter, so she had a normal sexual life as well as being famous.
None of the Serbian academics ever cared to explore this unbelievable feminism or just feminophilia of Karadzic. His lifestyle with his wife and daughter, his letters, and his employment of women as collaborators all speak to that. This whole history of women is simply not noted, because there’s been a blind spot about women.
Is there any interest in exploring this kind of history? It seems like you need a critical mass of people demanding this.
In academia, there’s an attitude of “the boys are back.” Gender studies departments are becoming gated communities. Much of European gender studies is commercially oriented. And the golden days of the 1990s are gone. The great philosopher RosiBraidottiwas very much involved in cooperating with the Balkans, with Eastern Europe, with all the fringes of Europe. She was doing this through a huge network of gender studies. Now there’s no such thing. Now it’s every woman for herself. Now it’s all about getting students and about competition. The energy behind gender studies is not lost, but it has become heavily institutionalized. It doesn’t function the same way any longer.
But you feel more optimistic about theater.
Although I’ve been neglected and attacked and I don’t see any prospect of personal change since I’m not Slovenian, theater is one of the reasons why I stay in the country. It’s unbelievable what’s going on in Slovenia, and it’s been going on for 30 years or more: good theaters, good shows, the unbelievable potential of actors and directors. I published a book this year about it called Little Theatrical Things comparing ancient Greek theater and my reading of Slovenian theater. There are excellent productions here in Ljubljana and around: very political, very engaged, very passionate, very avant-garde.
Even in the so-called provinces?
The “provincial” theater is fascinating. I recently went to Maribor in the east to see the premier of a play that I co-wrote with my very old friend — it was our first cooperation. It was a total disaster. We received a horrible review. But then we had the premier in the troupe’s own theater, in Nova Gorica in western Slovenia, which is the left-wing part of the country, the public absolutely loved the show. That was a sweeter pill than Maribor. That was my first experience in theater. Then I wrote this drama on the Kosovo myth, with the subtitle Women’s Politics.
Is there a women’s theater festival in this area?
Not yet. In October, in Ljubljana, there’s the City of Women festival, which includes some theater, some ballet, modern dance, exhibitions, all kinds of happenings. This year the City of Women has the topic of aging and older women.
When you talk about the cultural scene, you sound very excited. But when you talk about the political scene, you sound rather depressed. Are the two completely divorced from each other?
Yes. There are some connections, but they are basically two worlds. The state is making less and less money available for culture. In this government, which stole the elections in December last year, there are a bunch of primitives who dislike theater, literature, everything cultural. That makes the trench between culture and politics even deeper.
Unfortunately we still don’t have a tradition of ridicule here. I’m thinking of the phenomenon of Les Guignols de l’info in France or Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert in the United States. I watch them all the time because I miss that here. I want to laugh at the stupidity of politicians. I don’t want to simply laugh during the news. But there’s no such thing in Slovenia. The periodical Mladina does offer some criticism and picks up on the secret affairs of politics, plus some humor. But it’s not enough, and it’s not quick enough. You should laugh at these things the same evening. Otherwise there’s no point.
Is there anything in Serbia like that?
No. The website of Pescanik, which is not comical, at least has commentaries read by all kinds of people all over the world: the Serbian diaspora that is not nationalist. It used to be a radio station. When they lost their license, they organized this site and it’s widely read.
I’m curious about this phenomenon of Yugonostalgia. Is there any here in Slovenia?
Slovenia, in fact, is the main producer and main consumer of Yugonostalgia, much more than in Croatia or in other parts. Slovenians are the most prominent Yugonostalgia suckers. I really hate it. Because it’s commercialized, and it buries all the criticism in a deep concrete grave, never to be revealed again. All the former dissident culture is lost in nostalgia. Here in Slovenia it becomes a very simplified version of the reds against the blacks.
This Yugonostalgia serves as a placebo for desperate people. It destroys not only criticism but also freedom of mind, and it makes people non-active, just consumers of silly things. The Internet is full of Yugonostalgia objects. You can buy the old comic books, periodicals, pictures, paraphernalia, all kinds of rubbish: good for research, bad for the spirit.
So this is the opposite of what you want. You want people to laugh at current politicians and instead people are not laughing about the past.
And being sentimental for no good reason. We could publish the memoirs of people, which would be as a rule different, diverse and rich in information. But no, we have this uniforming of the past. I’m terribly against this nostalgia, and also the Tito-nostalgia – except for satirical purposes.
When you go to YouTube, you can find absolutely wonderful documentary material and some musical phenomenon that I didn’t care about when I was young. So, yes, it’s good to know about things that you didn’t know back then. But to idolize all this is rubbish? For the citizen’s minds, it’s no therapy at all.
One of the characters in a novel by Dubravka Ugresic talks about how she used to read critical, avant-garde fiction before the war. But during and after the war, she found that she could only read sentimental things. Have you noticed this phenomenon?
Yes, a huge number of women writers are into this sentimental garbage: religious, half-pornographic. Some people are making a lot of money on this. The question is how to revive the ironical, critical view of the world. We really need it now. By the way, Dubravka Ugresic’s last novel is really brilliant, the stuff that made her a celebrity in the 1980s. It’s about older women and Slavic mythology: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg.
In terms of the political situation here in Slovenia, is there anything on the horizon that you see as potentially positive.
Oh yes, there are some prospects. But unfortunately, you can see that they will fail. I would like to see a coalition among politicians who cannot stand each other but all want to dethrone the current government. My criteria are extremely low. I will help anyone who is able to do anything serious in this regard. But I don’t see much.
Can you give an example of something positive that you also see will inevitably fail?
There’s Positive Slovenia, a center-left party. I also see many alternative movements that are promising. The student movements, with all their mistakes, are probably the most promising way to change things. But we don’t see much cooperation. Slovenia is very small. You can’t do things on a massive scale. People have been quarreling for ages, since the First World War. When it comes to politics, people are not able to overcome their disputes or their personal memories to do something together.
What about the networks that connected Slovenian the 1980s?
Ah, the former glory of the 1980s. That was something. There were real networks, functional networks. But they ceased to be functional with the development of the politics of silencing resistance in Slovenia. Slovenia did not take responsibility for the war, for the Erased. Only now is this becoming visible. When it comes to the Roma problem, only some representatives of intellectuals are doing something. Recently I was with my group, the Shadow Theater (Greek Karagiozis type), which I organized with the Serbian Cultural Center “Danilo Kiš”, in one of the Roma illegal villages in south Slovenia. They are Slovenians, but they are rejected by everybody. When we were asking in the vicinity of the Roma village where the village was located, they just looked at us like we were the strangest creatures for wanting to go there.
There’s a number of problems that only the culture sphere dares to confront. There are many people who just enjoy this other culture. You go in the evening to Metelkova, and you see how young people have created something out of nothing and it’s brilliant. There are very few such places in Serbia and Croatia.
But there seems almost a wistfulness that the age of Metelkova has passed.
No, if you go there you’ll see that it hasn’t.
I mean, when I talk to people elsewhere they don’t feel as though they can create something like that now.
Yes, that’s true. Nowadays, they can’t. At the moment the city, which was always inimical toward Metelkova, is now more tolerant. The mayor, who is the leader of the party Positive Slovenia, is quite clear about what he can gain from Metelkova. I don’t like the guy, the party, or their attitude in parliament. But if they could show more nerve, more desire, more energy, more sex, they could do something. That’s one of the problems. We’re in a sleeping beauty situation. The sleeping beauty is sleeping on a bed of nails, and she doesn’t want to wake up.
Ljubljana, October 16, 2012
Update (May 2013): Just a couple of months later, the tension exploded in Slovenia. The leading old intellectuals from the 1980s openly exposed the collective responsibility for the Erased as the first issue to reflect upon. Many new groups and coalitions have been formed. The government fell after the Committee for Fighting Corruption revealed the murky financial manipulations of Prime Minister Janez Janša and Positive Slovenia leader and mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković. Janša stepped down, but not from the leading position in his party. Janković stepped down from his party, which formed the new government led by a woman, but not from his mayor’s position. The manifestations did not stop after November 2012.
I wrote a lot of commentaries for Peščanik. I was also engaged in the old intellectuals’ movement and in the women’s movement, and I think now that it was worth being here for the last 20 years…
I was born in Belgrade and lived there for many years. My husband is Slovenian. We met in Greece. Since the late 1980s, we lived a nomadic life between Belgrade and Ljubljana. I was marked in Serbia as against Serbian nationalism and for Albanians. I lost a job due to this whole process directed by Milosevic and his wife. In the last years of the 1980s, I was unemployed. I traveled throughout Yugoslavia, wearing my crown of anti-nationalism. In 1991, the war started. I understood that this kind of life wouldn’t be possible any more. So I came to Ljubljana to live with my husband.
I thought it would be possible to reconstruct my entire life in my mid-40s. But here I was a Serb and nothing else. It was quite a blow to my ego. And it was not like Slovenia was a happy island where everyone could live out the war happily. For instance, I couldn’t get citizenship. I tried as a person necessary for Slovenia. It took me three years. I got it only after foreign intervention. Until then, I was attacked every day. I was called a secret police agent for Milosevic and against Slovenians. There was an article by someone of left orientation who described me as Balkan woman who doesn’t know how to behave in another person’s home. It was extremely unpleasant until 1996.
My focuses have been on the anthropology of the ancient world, the issue of gender, and the impact of 1968. In Belgrade, 1968 was an extremely important and powerful time. It was intellectually restricted, but there were debates, for instance, on the early Marx. It was also openly, spontaneously anti-feminist. 1968 was a boy’s thing. After six days of actions, most of the students compromised with the state. I’m not interested in this disappointment. I’m trying to understand the consequences of 1968 on people’s minds and behaviors. It changed our lives. It changed our sexual behavior, and it changed our bodies. We began to conceive of our bodies very differently. We began to eat differently, to wear clothes differently. We changed entirely our views of race and ethnicity. We began thinking of other religions. We started to go back to atheism, which was a healthy move and which has mostly been abandoned these days. Artistically, it was a very creative period. 1968 changed the scene technologically. You can say that the Internet was the late fruit of the 1968 generation.
Decentralization was already on the way. The modernization of the party led to the regionalization of the party, which gave way to personal ambitions on all sides. Slightly after, in the 1970s, came Tito’s invention of the Muslim nation in order to make a balance with Bosnia. It was a good experiment in the beginning. But it ended in dictatorial behavior afterwards. This revolution was strongest in Serbia, but it had reactions elsewhere. People think of the rise of Serbian hegemony. But this rise was also an answer to these reactions elsewhere, such as in Croatia.
The best thing about 1968 was reading all the new authors – Althusser and Wilhelm Reich. It was a very good time for philosophy but also the arts flourished – film and theater. The program of the student uprising was really pathetic when I reread it now. But the energy was there.
ON THE ERASED
The Erased are people who lived here for many years. They’re mostly working-class people who had never encountered repression. But being working class, they were dispensable to the regime. I know some of them, and they really had a very hard time for years. They found themselves in a horrible position, which most are still in. They eventually developed a sense of revolt and reaction. It took them a lot of time. It’s difficult to imagine the level of mass psychology at the time when Janez Jansa won the elections in 2004. It was a time when a journalist could put forward the proposition that the Erased were simply doing it for money.
In the process of making Slovenia a capitalist country, the repressed are forgotten. They are brought into politics only to serve the right-wing. The underdogs are basically feminized. They are viewed as so low that they are close to being feminine. The women’s movement hasn’t addressed this issue.
ON THE BALKANS
The Balkans are sexy. You see, Slovenia is rather claustrophobic. It is very small, and sometimes extremely dull. If you want sex, drugs, and rock and roll, you can get them all very cheap and nearby – and that’s the Balkans. On other hand, the Balkan media are very present here. There’s Balkan television, especially Serbian television. The Serbians are noted for their bad taste, which can be enjoyable – a kind of caricature or kitsch. Going to Belgrade for a weekend is really cheap. Young people love it. They go for New Year’s Eve on the streets of Belgrade where everyone is drinking and shooting guns. It’s like young people in the United States going to Mexico.
ON THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT
The Balkans are patriarchal. On the other hand, the women’s movement before and during the war showed unbelievable strength. In many ways, it was a war of genders. During the early 1990s, women were on the other side of the war in Belgrade. There was a draft, and even nationalist women would forget everything to save their sons from their fathers. They would hide them. They were helped by Croatian women. Serbian women took to the streets. The men were worried about getting arrested, so women took over the streets. There were these two worlds, the women’s world and the men’s world. It changed later, and patriarchy regained its grip…
No guerrilla movement in the world would be successful without women. During World War II, partisan women created AFZ, the anti-fascist front of women. This organization had a million or more members. Women took it seriously. They got new rights. They rebuilt the whole country. They were active everywhere. There were new laws that preserved the nuclear family. But there were also laws protecting abortion, health care, social security. The AFZ was dissolved after Yugoslavia’s break with Stalin because it was too strong and could be competitive with the Yugoslav Communist Party. The Party then introduced the Western way of life, which included consumerism and a new role for women. Women should support the regime, work, and at same time be sexual objects. It was an impossible task.
We had the “black wave” of films in the 1970s that dealt with social unrest; crime, misery. They were considered social criticism. The government banned many of these films. But when you look at these films today, they present a woman who is guilty, usually a prostitute or a crying mother. These films are extremely misogynist. They blame women for communism. The Yugoslav dissidents didn’t resist this. It was a boy’s club all the way.
In 1992, seven Croatian women were proclaimed “witches.” That is, they were accused of not being patriotic enough. The weekly newspaper Globus published their names and photos and such data as who they were married to, whether they had Serbian husbands. This was so that everyone could harass them. Eventually the women filed suit with the help of Croatian PEN. Today, the media mark women as witches without punishment.
Responsibility was never discussed in any post-Yugoslav state, not even in Slovenia. In Serbia, there was very little discussion and then only at the margins. Unfortunately the women’s movements in Serbia have chosen to survive by becoming separated, a ghetto. They have no impact on the media, which is also an empire of the boys. They have power in their own ghetto. And they have connections internationally. There never was a break in communication among women in Yugoslavia, even before the war. Feminists issued a statement at that time in favor of Yugoslavia. Women were communicating and traveling even in the most difficult situations. Sometimes this was thanks to patriarchy because women simply weren’t taken seriously.
Some intellectuals in Croatia are now looking at the Yugoslav war seriously. And also in Macedonia, which didn’t participate in the war. The problem is, the country that was largely responsible, Serbia, hasn’t looked at the question of responsibility. It’s been done on the fringes, but not in the state media. The NATO bombing didn’t help very much. It just cemented this resistance.
We wanted Europe to help us. But Europe preferred not to. What does integration into Europe mean if not integration into a system where states don’t have the power to hurt their neighbors? This might not be true in the future, though. Europe is an insecure identity. It feels very badly about Yugoslavia.
There are some weak points of the European identity. For instance, the European constitution insists on Christianity and a Greco-Roman heritage, which is unbelievably false. It’s one of those lies that it isn’t supportable in the new Europe. Also there is the concept of Fortress Europe. Europe needs a workforce and they don’t let the workers in. There are minefields between Greece and Turkey. People are drowning in the Straits of Gibraltar. How secure can you feel in a federation that doesn’t let people cross borders freely?
Atheism is forgotten. Eighteenth-century liberal intellectualism, the best that Europe ever produced, is forgotten. Even the remaining pockets of these traditions are being debated. For instance, Dutch tolerance is being questioned very radically now. Also, in terms of European identity, we still do not have a European daily that would be available everywhere and that would take as its concern all of Europe. There’s no European academy, no European institution covering culture. Maybe this process is just slow, but it doesn’t give much hope.
Slovenian nationalism is clerical. It has loving memories of its Quisling past. The revision of history is really ugly. There is a kitschy core to Slovenian nationalism – the folklore. It’s a small country, but it is divided into provinces so different from each other that the inhabitants can’t even recognize each other. There is an invented folklore here, taken from bits and pieces of different traditions like the Tyrolean. TV Golitsa features Slovenian turbo-folk all the time. It’s different from the Balkan version of turbo folk, which features a lot of nudity and very presentable bodies. Here you have natural bodies, natural fat, and primitive enjoyment. This kitschy nationalism is everywhere in the Balkans. It’s an imaginary focus that you can direct in different directions – against Serbs, against Italians, even against Italian fascists. In this kitschy nationalism, people are happy. They dance, eat, enjoy life. And then they can be oriented in different directions like an amoeba.
There was a Dutch journalist who came here to do a historical series on the fall of socialism and said, “I want to listen to both parts, to both the partisans and the Quislings.” I asked whether one does this in Netherlands, talk to both sides. “Oh no,” the journalist said, “we know who are the good guys and bad guys.” So what are the two sides here, the partisans and the ones who committed genocide? And are the nationalists now on the side of those who committed genocide?
I wrote an article in the Slovenian media in 1992. I said Slovenia could become an international place where intellectuals from former Yugoslavia could find shelter. I was publically attacked as an enemy of Slovenia. I was not supposed to write about democracy and Slovenia because I was a Serb. Why should Slovenia do this if there is no other European place that sets such a multicultural example? Then there’s the example of the late Slovenian president Janez Dmovsek, who was quite exceptional. He changed radically by the end of his life. He left behind some images that are very important. He had a meeting with a Roma woman and he hugged her in front of the cameras. He quarreled with local rednecks. And he died so young, at 57. It was such a pity. But it shows that it is possible, in a nation of 2 million people, that individual actions can be effective.
Europe is deeply Americanized. The same brain-dead young people are watching MTV – so what’s the huge difference? We are unjustly forgetting the American liberals, the American resistance. There are some indications that the European public understands. There’s the popularity of Michael Moore’s films, for instance. This connection should be revived. Everyone still envies the Americans. They want to have this way of life. American stereotypes are so present from morning to night – every time you turn on the television. We see scenes from American families, we listen to American music. There isn’t much cooperation between the other side of America and the other side of us, here in Europe. It’s much less than it was in the 1960s. But there’s no longer any idolatry. People are very rational about going for a while to the United States and then coming back. The emigration hysteria is gone.